Dinner was over, and in the library, where Richard had asked Edith to be his wife, he sat waiting for her now, and for Arthur who had been invited to Collingwood that afternoon. The day was much like that other day when Victor alone sat with him, save that the south wind stealing through the casement was warmer, more fragrant than the breath of May had been. The robin was not now singing in the maple tree, but it would come home ere long, and Richard knew full well the chirping sounds which would welcome its approach. Once he had likened himself to the mated robin, but now, alas, he knew he was but the wounded bird, who finds its nest all desolate, its hopes all fled—I’m a tough old owl,” he said, smiling bitterly as he remembered when first he used that term. Edith was right; she could not mate with the owl, he thought, just as Arthur stepped across the threshold, and Edith came flipping down the stairs.
“Sit on a stool at my feet, as you used to do,” Richard said to her; “and you, Arthur, sit by me upon this sofa.”
They obeyed him, and after a moment he began, “I have sent for you my children, not to inflict pain, but to remove it. Heaven forbid that through me you should suffer longer, or that any act of mine should embitter your young lives. Do not interrupt me,” he continued, as Edith was about to speak. “I must hasten on, or my courage all will fail me. Arthur, give me your hands, the hands that saved my life. I will touch them as carefully, as tenderly as I am about to deal with you.”
Arthur complied with his request, and pressing the right one, Richard continued,
“I joined this once with another, a tiny, little hand, now laid away beneath the Southern flowers; and you said after me, ’I, Arthur, take thee, Nina, for my wife.’ You remember it, don’t you?”
Arthur could not speak, and, save the violent start which Edith gave, there came no answer to Richard’s question as he went on:
“It is only a few weeks since I learned who was that boy husband of eighteen and that girlish bride of fifteen and a half, but I know it now. I know it all, and this explains much that has been strange in me of late. Edith,” and he felt for her bowed head, “Edith, I have here Nina’s letter, written by stealth, and brought by Victor to me, and you must read it to us—then tell me, if you can, why I have so long been deceived?”
Edith had glanced at the beginning, and with a choking voice she said,